War is a subject that Adeline dedicates much of the second section of her memoir to. It is mainly focused on her late teen to adult life, most likely from 1914 onwards, so this falls directly over the period of the First and Second World Wars. Having lived through both of these devastating wars, Adeline is able to reflect upon her own and other’s experiences of war with clarity but it is still very painful and emotional for her and this is shown in her writing. For this final themed blog post I am going to be examining how Adeline expresses her emotions about the war in her memoir and also how her written memories display the effects it had, not only on Adeline’s working-class community but on the soldiers who were returning from war.
Firstly I’d like to look at how Adeline portrays her own experience of war time Britain. She discusses how it was a time of ‘making do’ as she writes about rationing, ‘My mother, poor soul, stood in queues for hours on end, sometimes her reward being a quarter pound of bacon. We grew our own onions and potatoes… It was really four long weary years of make do, but those of us who survived were only pleased to be alive’. This is a poignant passage in the memoir as Adeline has always spoken of how her family have struggled but ‘made do’ with what they could – this shows that rationing during the war challenged even Adeline’s mother’s resilient and providing nature.
Adeline writes about what a terrifying time the war was and how everyone’s life was changed due to it, ‘I got to thinking of my life during the First World War. No lights were allowed and the total darkness was terribly frightening. No vehicles carried lights and our homes were completely blacked out’. It is hard, without the experience of living through war, to imagine the emotions and tensions that would be running high in Adeline’s community. But she expresses here that ‘suspicion’ of members in the community was a common thing, leading to tensions and distrust surrounding everyone, ‘It was very surprising how suspicion spread amongst the neighbours about those little streaks of light in the blackout. For no reason at all they were looked upon as spies and the stories grew more and more alarming. Everybody was looking with suspicion at each other and delving into background to find the smallest trace of connection with the Germans’. Joanna Bourke, writing for The Guardian, raises this point too, ‘Suspicion of outsiders was high… They were required to register, obtain permits if they intended to travel more than five miles, and were prohibited from entering certain areas’ (2008). Of course Bourke writes on a more national scale of ‘outsiders’ to England, but the emphasis upon suspicion and distrust can be compared to Adeline’s own experiences.
In the memoir Adeline remembers her experiences of losing family members and people she knew. She writes, ‘My youngest brother, his wife and family did not make it. A landmine was dropped nearby and all were killed save the oldest boy. He was buried in debris for twenty-four hours and was badly injured but he survived. He has since been one of my family’. Here we see an elegiac tone of writing, as Adeline is reflective and mournful for her lost family. This terrible experience of loss portrays how families were torn apart in the war and had to support one another through difficult times. My fellow student researcher Melissa Slater also looks at this in her author, Henrietta Burkin’s, memoir as she writes, ‘Neighbourhoods’ had been destroyed and individuals were forced to piece their lives back together and some without their loved ones. Henrietta illustrates the horror of war when she states that, ‘the bombing of London was truly terrible, and at one time it seemed as if the whole of London was burning’ (4.4)’ (from Melissa’s War & Memory blog post).
An interesting point in Adeline’s memoir is when she discusses how soldiers were affected by the war and what happened upon their return to Britain. She writes, ‘After the war things began to turn sour. The men came home with such high expectations from the promises made to them by Parliament. But they found only poverty and unemployment facing them. All they wanted was to settle down and have a few of the things they had missed in the trenches. They had been sick and lousy and unkempt, half-starved and frozen all that miserable time and now they expected something different’. This insight shows how soldiers who had fought for their country and been praised as ‘heroes’ were returning home with no future prospects provided for them. When Adeline writes this we can sense a hint of anger in her tone as she obviously believes these men have been treated unfairly. She also notes that, ‘There was great rejoicing when the war ended, but peace was no picnic. Food and clothes remained on ration for a few years’, and, ‘But at last we were at peace- or so we thought. Even so there were mumblings of a second war which made the peace so uneasy’. Adeline’s recurring notion of ‘peace’ after the war is a hopeful and positive one, reflecting her attitude and writing throughout her memoir, but we can see this faltering here as the war provokes feelings of anger and sadness for her too. The ‘mumblings of a second war’ could not have been a pleasant thought for all of those in Adeline’s community and Britain as a whole as the nation tried to recover from the significant loss of life and rebuild itself.
I would like to share a passage from Adeline’s memoir that, I believe, depicts a brilliant understanding and perception of remembrance and shows how Adeline truly feels about remembering and losing those who fell during the war.
‘Today is Armistice Day and I’ve been watching the service on television. I feel so sad. I think we that are old should teach our families to respect these acts of remembrance and what they really stand for. People like myself who have lived through two devastating wars, and are old enough now to remember the miseries of both, dread the thought of another. When I look at my lovely grandchildren, watching them grow up and thinking of what might happen, it makes me worry and wonder. Truly, “the bairns little think what the auld folks are thinking”. But parents should talk to them or answer their questions when occasion arises. All our memorials are in foreign lands so our younger generations have no idea. It is an amazing and very sad sight to see the burial places in foreign lands, and one monument says: ‘When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrows we gave our today’. Oh dear God, those lovely lads I knew so well. At least we hope they are now enjoying the peace that passes understanding.’
We can take so much from Adeline’s memoir. Her thoughts that, ‘we that are old should teach our families to respect these acts of remembrance and what they really stand for’, really resonates with me as I believe that by understanding and learning about people’s lived experiences we can always help others to empathise with situations. Reading working-class author’s memoirs provides us with a more deep and complex perception of war as we can relate to others memories. We can use this to help remember those who not only fought and died for our country, but those who lived and struggled through the ordeal of war.
411 HODGES, Adeline, ‘I Remember’, MS, pp.250 (c.42000 words). Brunel University Library
Bourke, Joanna: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/11/first-world-war-changing-british-society (2008) Accessed: 19/01/2015